Exide: L.A. Councilman Makes Move to Step In

Motion asks City Attorney to look into legal options.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Saying he’s lost confidence in the state agency overseeing the cleanup of toxic lead contamination from the now closed Exide plant in Vernon, Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar today introduced legislation to urge Gov. Brown and the State Legislature to move quickly to protect the health and safety of families in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Southeast cities.

Huizar, who represents and is himself a resident of Boyle Heights, said he’s grown impatient with the California Department of Toxic Substances Controls’ “snails pace” in handling of testing and cleanup of the estimated 10,000 homes in the contamination zone.

“We are tired of asking for assistance,” Huizar said during a news conference at City Hall. “We cannot leave this responsibility to DTSC anymore.”

Boyle Heights residents join L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar, center, as he announces a resolution urging the governor and DTSC to expedite the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Boyle Heights residents join L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar, center, as he announces a resolution urging the governor and DTSC to expedite the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Huizar today introduced a resolution, also signed by several other members of the Council, that calls on the governor or Legislature to make sure DTSC has an adequate plan and funds to execute a full cleanup of lead and arsenic at homes surrounding the Exide plant.

The agency is currently taking public comments on the plan the decontaminate and dismantle the battery-recycling plant in Vernon, but has no complete plan for residential cleanup.

Huizar called the state’s lack of  urgency “astonishing,” given that this “is causing deaths and future harm to our children, and quite frankly a lot of fear and a lot of questions that go unanswered.”

Huizar also introduced a motion at City Council asking City Atty. Mike Feuer to explore what legal options the city has to force the state to act, including the possibility of a lawsuit.

The motion also calls for the appropriate city departments to prepare and submit comment on DTSC’s Draft Environmental Impact Report on Exide’s proposed closure and decontamination plan before the March 28 deadline.

As many 100,000 residents from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park are at higher-risk for neurological diseases, learning disabilities and cancer due to repeated exposure to levels of lead so high they can cause birth defects, learning disabilities, cancer, and other chronic health issues.

Huizar said he is especially concerned with the public right of ways and parks where thousands of families and children gather.

“The city should not be at odds with the state agency responsible for protecting the environmental well-being of the citizens of California,” Huizar said. “Unfortunately, it has come to that point.”

DTSC allowed Exide to operate for over 30 years on a temporary permit despite repeated violations of toxic chemical standards, Huizar said. Exide chose to permanently close the Vernon site after the company struck a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office to avoid criminal prosecution.

“Governor Brown didn’t get us in this mess…but today we need the governor’s leadership to bring support and get us out of this mess,” he said.

“We need state agencies to treat this like the emergency it is,” he urged.

The councilman said he has little confidence Exide will pay for the cleanup given its bankruptcy status, so it’s going to be up to the State to allocate funding to expedite the cleanup process.

The hefty price tag to fully test and clean every property, which some estimates put as high as $400 million, is keeping DTSC from moving quickly, residents believe.

Exide had so far put up $9 million, the state $7 million and the County of Los Angeles has said it’s allocating $2 million to speed up testing.

According to DTSC, 496 properties have been sampled and a total of 752 access agreements have been signed by property owners. Only 193 homes have been cleaned so far.

Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano was at Huizar’s side when he introduced the resolution. She said a vast majority of people in her neighborhood are dying or living with cancer. She said high levels of lead where found in her home a year ago, but DTSC has yet to clean up the contamination.

“Don’t us as minorities matter, don’t our lives matter,” she asked. “We are victims of Exide and a failed state.”

DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP the agency currently only has two crews working on cleanup. Each property takes about a week to be cleaned, limiting the cleanup to two homes per week.

Nax told EGP DTSC is committed to ensuring both the closure and cleanup are conducted in a safe and protective manner.

Cano said the state agency is “dragging their feet” to cleanup contamination that is killing people left and right and could “wipe out a whole minority of people,” she said, struggling to hold back tears.

“How can this be happening in the United States? In Los Angeles?”

As EGP first reported, eastside residents have been frustrated with what they say is a double standard in the state’s swift response to the gas leak in more affluent Porter Ranch. Whereas they’ve been waiting for years for the governor, Legislature and city to act to protect them, it only took Gov. Brown two months to issue a state of emergency in Porter Ranch.

Now that the Southern California Gas Co. gas leak has been temporarily controlled, Huizar said he hopes to see the same type of prompt response from the state in Boyle Heights, no matter how much the cleanup costs. He pointed to the state’s surplus as a source for funding.

“Yes we need to put some away for a rainy day,” said Huizar “But it’s a rainy day here.”

Update: 2-13-16 to remove repeated paragraph.

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February 12, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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